It’s no coincidence that Dwyane Wade is churning out marquee performances in quotidian fashion and the Miami Heat is through to the second round of the NBA playoffs. The two are inextricably linked, and have been for years. As third-seeded Miami enters a series with the second-seeded Toronto Raptors, Coach Erik Spoelstra understands he’ll need Wade to continue turning back clocks.
“I’ve seen Dwyane enough over the years that it just becomes winning plays — whatever those may be,” Spoelstra told ESPN.com after Wade’s performance in Game 6, a game in which the guard had a team-high 23 points, including two unicorn-like three-pointers in the final quarter. “It’s borne out of great competition and it brings the absolute best out of him.”
That Prince’s favorite basketball player could write a dissertation on the NBA postseason is widely recognized: the 34-year-old Marquette product has won three titles in South Beach, participated in 159 playoff games and logged 6,125 minutes — the equivalent of 1.5 seasons — of playoff experience. The second-oldest player on the roster (Joe Johnson is older), Wade is nearly always the player Spoelstra looks at to pull the ripcord for the team: the go-to player for a much-needed basket, the instant substitution to stem the tide in a hard-fought game.
In fact, through seven games this postseason, Wade has accounted for near-unprecedented usage (31.7 percent of possessions) for a player his age. Only seven players — Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Dan Issel, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson and Wade — age 34 and older, have ever produced a usage rate higher than 31 while playing in at least four playoff games. Only Wade, Jordan and Malone have ever maintained that usage through more than six playoff games.
That Wade is flourishing in the postseason for the first time since LeBron James took his talents back to Cleveland and is leading Miami to wins without the services of 11-time all-star Chris Bosh shouldn’t go unnoticed. Late in Game 6, staring down elimination, Wade punished Steve Clifford’s Hornets — and the ostentatious heckler known colloquially as Purple Shirt Guy — in crunch time, scoring 10 points and blocking two shots in the final quarter. Who else would it be?
ESPN’s David Thorpe ranked him second in playoff MVP voting following the first round, and for good reason: he’s averaging a team-high 19 points and five rebounds per contest. Plus, his figures per 100 possessions in the conference quarterfinals were once again scintillating.
“When you get your opportunities,” Wade told ESPN.com, continuing with his Gatorade-esq syntax, “you have to seize them. You can’t let go. We’ve continued to do that all season. Every time it looked like that door was about to close, we somehow, some way pushed through it and pushed forward.”
Keeping the Chicago native on court this postseason has been paramount to Miami’s success, too: the Heat outscored Charlotte by 16.5 points per 100 possessions with Wade on the court in the first round, and were outscored by 1.3 points per 100 possessions when he sat. Moreover, without Wade on the court Miami’s team true shooting percentage plummeted (49.5 compared with 59.5, per NBA Wowy), as did its points-per-shot figure (0.99 compared with 1.19). Additionally, Charlotte’s true shooting percentage (51.6 compared with 47.7) and points per possession (1.32 compared with 0.83) saw a spike with Wade off the court.
Don’t let his easy-going Dove commercials fool you: Wade has dealt with a litany of injuries throughout his career, an extensive list that only serves to further the narrative of what he’s accomplishing this year. The action will continue to be funneled through Wade in Miami’s second-round series; thanks to his resurgent efforts, the Heat is back chasing another title.